The first Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was put up in 1931, during the Great Depression:

Capture

In 1944 the tree was left unlit because of WWII and the need to blackout cities to avoiding bombing.

In 1967, the tree was opportunity for Canada and the U.S. to demonstrate good will to one another.  It was Canada’s 100th birthday and, in honor of the milestone, they donated a tree.

In 1971, Rockefeller Center bowed to the environmental movement and agreed to recycle the tree.  In the picture below it is being taken to a processing plant to be turned into mulch.

Later,  the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, and Habitat for Humanity would put the tree to use.

In 2007, the tree was lit with LED lights instead of incandescent bulbs in order to save energy.  NBC covered the story very favorably, attracting criticism given that it was NBC’s parent company, General Electric, who manufactured and sold the bulbs.

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In 2008, signifying its commercialization, a 10 foot tall, 550-lb star made with 25,000 Swarovski crystals topped the tree.  Rumor is that Swarovski paid $1.5 million dollars for the privilege, while pop star Fergie had the privilege of helping unveil the over-the-top tree topper:
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All photographs and information borrowed from Time.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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